Although I live only 10 miles from downtown Dallas, I'm rarely there. But last night, of all nights, I was. I was just a couple of miles south of Dallas when the shootings took place and had to make my way back through the city to return home as the situation continued to unfold.
The city looked unlike I had ever seen it. The streets were shut down, blue and red lights reflected off the buildings, and the sky was filled with helicopters. I listened to the reporters on the AM radio trying to make sense of the events that had just occurred. It wasn't until I returned home and turned on the TV that I began to fully understand the reality of what had taken place in this city that I love.
It's truly overwhelming. I feel a sense of the gut-wrenching compassion that Jesus felt as He looked out over the multitudes and saw them as sheep without a shepherd. I feel it for the families of Philando Castile and Alton Sterling. I feel it for the black community as they try to make sense of the last few days. I feel it for the 12 officers shot last night and their families. I feel it for the families of the five officers killed. I feel it for our Dallas police officers who will continue to protect our city and its citizens. I feel it for our nation that seems to have somehow reverted back to the racial tension of a previous generation.
As a pastor in this community, I'm thinking about how to respond. I must respond. Not just because I live in this community, but because this is what pastors do.
Pastors shepherd the people of God. They help God's people navigate moments like this. Pastors lead their people in prayer. Pastors encourage their people in hope. Pastors put these situations into a Gospel perspective. Pastors lead their people in how to lovingly respond. The church must respond and the pastors must lead them. Even if, at the moment, it is a call to prayer, we must respond.
Today, as we wake up to the reality of these horrific realities of senseless killings and deeply rooted racial tension, our first response might not be to act -- but rather to feel. Romans 12:15 says, "Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep." The reason God gives us that command is because He knows we do not naturally do this. God knows that every response to someone's suffering is easier than this one; it's easier to act than to feel. It takes less time. It takes less energy. It takes less listening.
It's not that we do not feel badly for people. We are sad for their circumstances and wish they were different. But we do not often set our own circumstances aside and ask God to allow us to enter into someone else's suffering and pain. After all, we all have enough of our own. But this is the Gospel in action.
Today, among the many good and Gospel-centered responses that the church will have to this situation, let's not miss the most basic one -- to feel. The glory of the incarnation was not that Christ simply felt our pain, but that He took our pain and suffered and died for it. But one without the other does not give us much hope. We run to Jesus not only because He can help, but because He understands.
Our response cannot end with grief -- but it seems that it must start there. We cannot bypass Romans 12:15 in order to jump to our sermons and action plans for racial reconciliation. We must pray that God, in His grace, will allow us to weep with those who weep. That somehow, in the midst of our own griefs and sorrows, God might allow us to understand and feel the grief and sorrow of those around us. That somehow, their grief might even overshadow ours. We must pray that we, as the church, might not only reflect those actions of Christ, but the heart of Christ. That the world around us would see the Jesus of the Bible, the one who bore our griefs and carried our sorrows (Isaiah 53:4). That Jesus is hard to ignore.
This column by J. Josh Smith, pastor of MacArthur Avenue Baptist Church in Irving, Texas, first appeared at the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission's website (www.erlc.com).